Making region­al gen­re fare in the ‘70s was a dou­ble-edged sword. On one hand, you could make what you want­ed if you stuck to your tiny bud­get and there were also enough inde­pen­dent dis­tri­b­u­tion out­lets that would allow you to get your work out to the pub­lic with­out much inter­fer­ence. On the oth­er hand, there was always a dan­ger of nev­er see­ing prof­it and/or falling prey to an unscrupu­lous dis­trib­u­tor who could steal your work out from under you.

Axe-posThus, a lot of promis­ing region­al film­mak­ers weren’t able to use their work as a step­ping stone to big­ger things and their work fell into cultish obscu­ri­ty. Frederick Friedel was one such direc­tor. He made a cou­ple of films on a region­al lev­el, only to have the infa­mous Harry Novak snatch them out from under him via crafty busi­ness maneu­vers. Thankfully, his work was sub­se­quent­ly redis­cov­ered on video and has built a fol­low­ing over time. Axe was his first film and shows why his work con­tin­ues to intrigue: sim­ply put, he used his free­dom as a region­al film­mak­er to bring an unusu­al, art­sy sen­si­bil­i­ty to horror/exploitation con­cepts.

The sto­ry­line of Axe is built on the col­li­sion of two plot threads. The first revolves around a trio of crooks — bru­tal lead­er Steele (Jack Canon), sleazy Lomax (Ray Green) and reluc­tant hood Billy (Friedel) — as they com­mit crim­i­nal car­nage and look for a place to hide. The oth­er revolves around Lisa (Leslie Lee), a qui­et­ly dis­turbed young wom­an who lives with and cares for her invalid grand­fa­ther at a seclud­ed farm. The crooks end up at the farm­house, where Steele and Lomax can’t resist toy­ing with Lisa — and this kicks off a bat­tle of wills that reveals Lisa is as Axe-pos2resource­ful and dead­ly as the crooks.

Axe doesn’t shy away from its oppor­tu­ni­ties for bru­tal­i­ty: the crook part of the plot has some sur­pris­ing­ly intense and twist­ed sce­nes of bru­tal­i­ty and the sec­ond half has some equal­ly vio­lent slash­ing sce­nes.

That said, it’s Friedel’s approach to his mate­ri­al that makes the film so inter­est­ing: his direc­tion has an offhand­ed­ly art­sy flair to it, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the sce­nes at the farm­house. He’s not afraid of using silence in sce­nes to cre­ate a feel­ing of dread, off­sets the grim events of the sto­ry­line with oft-love­ly pho­tog­ra­phy by Austin McKinney and goes for unique jux­ta­po­si­tions in his edit­ing. The per­for­mances are raw but every­one has an inter­est­ing screen pres­ence that pulls them through — and a jazz-influ­enced score by George Newman Shaw and John Willhelm seals the film’s eerie mood.

In short, Axe dis­tin­guish­es itself in the ‘70s indie hor­ror sweep­stakes by dint of its per­son­al­ized style. That’s the kind of qual­i­ty that fans of region­al gen­re fare respond to and this movie has it on full dis­play.